January 18, 2005


Cheney Exercising Muscle on Domestic Policies (RICHARD W. STEVENSON and ELISABETH BUMILLER, 1/18/05, NY Times)

Vice President Dick Cheney is playing a potentially pivotal role in shaping the Bush administration's ambitious domestic agenda, supporting larger personal investment accounts for Social Security than many other Republicans and helping gauge how the White House should proceed on Capitol Hill, administration officials and associates of Mr. Cheney say.

On issues like Social Security and overhauling the tax code, they say Mr. Cheney tends to mix an instinct for free-market conservatism with a pragmatic knack for vote counting, being the former House member that he is. Although Mr. Cheney is most identified in the public mind with foreign policy, he has also begun assertively rebutting administration critics on domestic issues, as he did in a speech last week on Social Security, while he works behind the scenes to hold together an increasingly fractious Republican Party.

As on Iraq and other foreign policy issues, Mr. Cheney's views on domestic matters tend to favor bold action even at the risk of short-term political backlash - what his critics would consider overreaching, reinforcing President Bush's own instincts. But even as he usually favors conservative approaches to whatever issue is under consideration, he also has a realistic streak honed by his keen sense of what members of his party on Capitol Hill are willing and able to push through Congress and deliver to Mr. Bush's desk, people who have discussed domestic issues with him say.

On Social Security, Mr. Cheney, in internal administration discussions, has been advocating that the personal accounts Mr. Bush wants to create within the retirement system be at the large end of what has been under consideration, a position likely to hearten many conservatives in Congress who also want to establish the biggest possible accounts, they say. But he has also been supportive of benefit cuts that some conservatives are telling the White House would be political suicide.

Mr. Cheney is going into the debate over how and whether to rewrite the tax code philosophically inclined to support a single-rate flat tax that would create incentives for more savings and investment, a position shared by many conservatives, Cheney associates say. But, drawing on his long experience as a member of Congress and his informal role as Mr. Bush's primary ambassador to Capitol Hill, he is aware that creating a new tax system might be politically unfeasible, they say, and would be supportive as well of taking steps to achieve the same incentives through changes to the existing progressive income tax system.

Mr. Cheney's supporters say he has no desire to elbow aside cabinet secretaries or run economic policy day to day. They say Mr. Bush relies on him to step back from the politics of the day and look at policy choices from all angles, considering long-term effects and unintended consequences. John W. Snow, the Treasury secretary, said Mr. Cheney considered himself "an extra set of helping hands."

Gotta let the economic Right know there's someone watching out for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 18, 2005 7:03 AM

This is one of those questions on which left and right is almost meaningless, with the Democrats having moved into the reactionary slot.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 18, 2005 7:57 AM